San Luis Obispo poet Francesca Nemko’s new book celebrates life’s transitions

slinn@thetribunenews.comApril 1, 2013 

In her new book, San Luis Obispo poet Francesca Nemko reflects on the ever-changing nature of life.

“You move to anew place. You lose a lover. You find a lover. You lose a child. You get a new job,” Nemko, 76, said. “These transitions seem to be a theme of my life.”

The poet read from “Transitions: My First 75 Years … and the story continues” at a book signing Sunday at Steynberg Gallery in San Luis Obispo. The book, which features 42 poems written over about two decades, was published by Central Coast Press.

Nemko said she first started writing poetry in her late 20s.

“These lines would keep floating through my head, so I thought I’d just better write these down,” said the English-born author, who has lived on the Central Coast on and off since 1993. “That was a prescient idea because I’ve been writing these lines ever since.”

Raised in London and Reading, the rebellious young Nemko left school at age 15 and began working as a secretary at age 16. She moved to the United States at age 27 to experience the American jazz scene, living first in New York City and later in Los Angeles.

“I heard pretty much all the giants of jazz,” recalled Nemko, including Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Herbie Hancock.

In 1973, Nemko launched her writing career on the encouragement of her mentor, composer-turned-critic Leonard Feather, who served as the Los Angeles Times’ chief jazz critic from the early 1960s until his death in 1994. The two collaborated on an article for DownBeat magazine.

Over the years, Nemko’s articles have appeared in various publications including the Los Angeles Times, DownBeat, JazzTimes and The Tribune.

She’s also published two previous books of poetry — 1991’s “Childless Mother” and 1999’s “Of Parrot and Paradigms” — as well as a 2005 collection of works by her group, Excavating Buried Treasure.

Nemko started Excavating Buried Treasure, which she described as a support group for artists of all kinds, in 2003. Members meet once a week to write, draw, dance and explore.

“We go into our inner world and pull out the things we want to express,” she explained.

Nemko employs the same inwardly focused approach to her poetry.

“The poetry I write could come from anywhere in the world because it’s mostly from my inner workings,” she said. “My influence is pretty much all from within.”

That said, she doesn’t mind having a soundtrack for her creative process.

“If I hear music often, it will rush me to the paper to write something,” said Nemko, whose tastes include jazz, classical and rock ’n’ roll.

“I feel that all my poems share a certain musicality,” she added in an email. “They have a rhythm which I believe comes from the fact that I started writing as I was listening to the music …”

With “Transitions,” Nemko celebrates 75 years of creativity while looking forward to the future.

“I know there’s more to come,” she said.

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